Linking School to Work Can Aid Economic Development

Article excerpt

Linking school to employment is crucial to developing a stronger workforce. Employers consistently complain that U.S. high school graduates generally lack basic academic literacy in areas such as reading and mathematics, and higher learning skills such as critical reasoning and problem-solving needed in high-skilled positions.

The School-to-Work Opportunities Act is offering grants to high poverty areas to improve the transition from high school to the world of work. Improving this transition can be an important part of economic development and, in localities where high concentrations of poverty exist, a strategy for helping reduce poverty.

According to an NLC survey of more than 2,000 local elected officials in cities with 100,000 or more residents, many local officials see job training and business-education partnerships as key strategies for both poverty reduction and bringing about economic development.

A diploma does not ensure a decent job

Today's high school curriculum does not adequately prepare non-college bound students for the workplace.

High school students who plan to attend college and earn baccalaureate degrees have a reasonable expectation of obtaining jobs in a professional environment. Roughly three-quarters of high school graduates, however, will not seek a bachelor's degree. These graduates may find jobs, but the jobs are unrelated to schoolwork, require few skills, and pay low wages.

High school graduates, while more likely to get the jobs than dropouts, obtain the same lowwage jobs as those who don't finish school. Consequently, many non-college bound high school students see little incentive to learn. This lack of incentive causes many students to drift through high school avoiding challenging classes, and increases the probability that they will drop out.

School-to-work programs seek to bridge the gap between high school and the workplace by making schoolwork more relevant to the workplace, and by providing work-based learning opportunities to students.

Existing school-to-work strategies include such programs as career academies, youth apprenticeship programs, community service opportunities and cooperative education. Some states have begun wider educational reform to make the high school structure more out-comes-based, where students leave with tangible credentials that they are employment-ready. …